2010 Olympics promotional train tour becomes target for protests across Canada - November 26, 2008
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Angela Sterritt is a grassroots organizer, artist and writer from the Gitxsan Nation of Northwest British Columbia. She currently works as a support worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and is a member of the Olympic opposition group, the Native 2010 Resistance. Angela recently completed a nationwide speaking tour of Canada regarding the 2010 Olympics.
Leah George-Wilson is the Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, located in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Chief George-Wilson is a Co-Chair of British Columbia's First Nations Summit, a forum for issues related to treaty negotiations in the province. As Chief, Leah represents her nation as a member of the Four Host First Nations Society, a group made up of leaders from the four indigenous nations that will be hosting the Olympic Games on their lands.
With more than a full year before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics begin, the games have already encountered stiff opposition. A range of groups have expressed their disagreement with the way that the Olympics are being run on Canada's west coast. Their concerns include: environmental destruction, the rights of low or no income residents, lack of transparency and consultation in decision making, and development on indigenous land that has never been surrendered to Canada. Olympic sponsor Canadian Pacific Railway ran a promotional tour, known as the Spirit Train, across Canada which became a target for activists countrywide. One group went as far as to occupy the train tracks, thereby temporarily postponing the train while en route to its Toronto stop. The Real News spoke to Angela Sterritt who provided background information on the various reasons why the Olympics have created such a backlash. One of the major issues being raised by activists is the construction of Olympic venues on indigenous territory that has never been signed over to the Government of Canada via treaty or otherwise. The Real News also spoke to Leah George-Wilson, Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh nation, who is supporting the Olympics, to get her response to the points being raised by the protesters.
Why I support the REAL News(a short message from a supporter)NOAM CHOMSKY, PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS, MIT: I think what The Real News Network is doing is making an essential contribution to the revitalization of a functioning democracy that can really be a government of, by, and for the people, not just in words.~~~Courtesy: International Olympic CommitteeJACQUES ROGGE, IOC PRESIDENT: The 21st Olympic Winter Games in 2010 are awarded to the city of Vancouver.Controversy over 2010 OlympicsProducer: Jesse FreestonJESSE FREESTON, TRNN: With that announcement in 2003, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge awarded Canada its third Olympic Games. And while many rejoiced at the news, the arrival of the Olympics has been met with objection from groups advocating for a range of issues, including indigenous rights, environmental protection, and poverty elimination. The Real News spoke to Angela Sterritt, a community organizer from the indigenous Gitxsan Nation. Angela is a member of the Native 2010 resistance campaign and works in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.~~~FREESTON: Angela, could you provide an example of the problems that the Olympics are bringing to the indigenous communities on the west coast?ANGELA STERRITT, NATIVE 2010 RESISTANCE CAMPAIGN: For example, they're expanding the Sun Peaks ski resort. So what that does is that it, you know, expands the condo development already there. It involves making a fake snow which is made by using recycled sewage. Then that runoff from the mountains goes into the water, destroys the salmon habitat. And then, as well, obviously, the clear-cutting of the mountains is going to be destroying animal habitat, sacred sites. And migratory patterns of the animals is going to be destroyed, which will in turn affect people's lifestyles.~~~FREESTON: The Real News also spoke to Leah George-Wilson, chief of the indigenous Tsleil-Waututh Nation, one of the four nations whose leaders make up the Four Host First Nations Society, a body that is supporting the 2010 Olympics.LEAH GEORGE-WILSON, CHIEF, TSLEIL-WAUTUTH NATION: I live in North Vancouver. In the Greater Vancouver Area, there's, like, two million people. So my community has been impacted for the last 100 years, never mind what the Olympics are going to do. In our traditional territory, which includes Vancouver, our hunting and fishing has already been impacted by the urban sprawl.FREESTON: The opposition to the Olympics reached a national crescendo over the month of October, when Olympics sponsor Canadian Pacific Railway carried out a promotional tour known as the "Spirit Train" in order to mark the 2010 Olympics. The train was met with protests throughout its cross-country voyage, including its events in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Montreal. The Real News met up with the train on its Toronto stop.~~~FREESTON: Could you tell us a bit about the event?JAMIE LEVCHUK, VANOC (OLYMPICS ORGANIZING COMMITTEE): Yes. This is the CP Spirit Train, and it's with one of our partners, and we're proud to partner with CP on this initiative. It's making stops in ten communities right across the country and bringing the spirit of the Winter 2010 Games to Canadians all across the country, because we've really gone with the message that this is Canada's games, it's not just Vancouver and Whistler, and we want all Canadians to participate.~~~FREESTON: Why was it the Spirit Train was targeted?STERRITT: The Spirit Train was a target because what the Spirit Train is is a propaganda machine trying to promote the Olympics as something that was really important for Canadians, the Olympic spirit, the pride, and the strength of your country, and, basically, just how the Olympics doesn't have anything wrong with it. What we wanted to address with the Spirit Train was the parts of the Olympics that weren't being talked about.FREESTON: Such as?STERRITT: The displacement in the urban centers, like in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, for example. It's pretty interesting, actually. Tonight we were at a talk, and there's this man saying that one of the developers had told him, "Well, no one lives in the Downtown Eastside. No one lives here, no one stays here, no one owns this, no one belongs here. But we do, and we're going to make money off this, because there's nothing here," which is exactly the sentiment that colonizers had when they first came to indigenous land in Canada.FREESTON: A lot of people have been talking about how there's been an effort in Vancouver to criminalize homelessness. What does that mean? And how is that playing out in Vancouver?STERRITT: They're basically criminalizing people for being homeless, for vending on the streets. For some people in Downtown Eastside that's the way that they make moneythey vend. So they dumpster drive and then they sell the things that they find. So what they've been doing is locking up garbage cans. They've been ticketing vendors. They've been taking away shopping carts. There's actually a truck that goes by where I work every day, and they pick up shopping carts in one truck, and then in the other one they dump out all these people's belongings. People are being ticketed also for just sleeping on the streets so that it will be, quote-unquote, "cleaned up" for the developers, for the tourists who are going to be coming in for 2010. We're seeing people being criminalized just for living. And just to put it in perspective, there's going to be about 300,000 people coming to view the Olympics. And, again, by 2010 it's been estimated that there'll be about about 6,000 people made homeless. That doesn't include people that have had to move because of rent increases.~~~FREESTON: The train was delayed for over two hours while approaching its Toronto, Ontario, stop, when a group of indigenous and non-indigenous protesters occupied the tracks.~~~DAN KELLAR, NO2010 MOVEMENT: We've blocked the spirit train because we're standing in solidarity with the First Nations of the west coast of Canada who have called for a convergence and support in their campaign to resist the Olympics on stolen native land.FREESTON: Could you explain what you mean by "stolen native land"?KELLAR: Well, there's very few treaties out west, in British Columbia. And so stolen native land, these are all un-ceded lands where the Olympics are happening.~~~LEVCHUK: We're proud of our association with the Four Host First Nations that we've established~~~FREESTON: What kind of consultation went on inside these communities prior to the agreement with their band council leaders?STERRITT: Oh, very little. The Four Host First Nations, they're claiming that they represent the entire people, but its chief making the entire decision. So aside from maybe a band and council meeting, which has a chief and 12 councilors max, that's where these decisions are being made. So it's very colonial in practice; it's very paternalistic; it's very much like when the white man came, way back when, and said, "You are going to have captains or chiefs elected from each community, and each captain will make all the decisions about your community." So what I like to call the Four Host First Nations, in terms of what that means, is the Four Host First Nation Corporation, because what it basically is is a legitimizing body for VANOC, for the IOC, for the entire Olympics movement to claim that there is some sort of representative voice of indigenous peoples from these lands where the Olympics is going to be held. They're not representing the people; they're representing the ideology that making money is far more important than standing up for the people and fighting for the land.~~~FREESTON: What was the process by which your specific nation came to the decision to support the Olympics?GEORGE-WILSON: In our case, we talked about it at council, and then we talked about it in a general meeting, and people just said that's what they wanted to do. We didn't have any formal referendum or anything. We think that by participating in the 2010 Olympics, that's the route that'll get us to our overall goal: having a voice, having say in our traditional territory.~~~FREESTON: One member of the Ontario protesters, Winnie Small, locked herself to the rails in order to ensure that her message would be heard.WINNIE SMALL, NO2010 MOVEMENT: At the very least, I hope that the message will be put out there that there is resistance, that wherever the train has been going, there's been previous resistance, and that as time goes on there's not going to be less resistance but more, and that people are stepping things up.~~~FREESTON: The Spirit Train has been met with some protests. Why do you think that there has been such a reaction to this?LEVCHUK: Well, I mean, we know that not all Canadians and not all people are in agreement with the Olympic Games, and we respect people's right for a peaceful protest. And, you know, that's turned up at a few of the sites.FREESTON: What do you think it is about the Olympic Games that they are opposed to?LEVCHUK: Again, you'll probably have to go direct to the protesters for their definite beefs. But, again, you know, we respect their right to come out and express their views. What we wanted to do was give opportunity for Canadians right across the country to celebrate the accomplishments of a lot of great Canadian athletes. We've had over 50 Canadian athletes who have been involved here on the Spirit Train.~~~KELLAR: I wish the Olympics could be about sport. We have nothing wrong with the athletes, nothing wrong with sport. But it's being used as a tool for development without any regard for social and environmental wellbeing.FREESTON: Some people have argued that the Olympics is a time to avoid politics, it's a time where all the nations of the world can get together to do something other than argue about politics. And they might argue that "Sure, go ahead and disrupt a leaders summit; go ahead and disrupt a free trade agreement. But the Olympics, it's apolitical." What would your response to that?KELLAR: Well, I would love the Olympics to be apolitical, but when it's on land that's being stolen from First Nations. And also the social situation in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouverpeople are being thrown out of their houses. And the environmental destruction that's happening because of the construction of the Olympics is permanent. There's no going back from a lot of that.~~~SMALL: I think the view that it can be viewed apolitically is a privilege of those who are in positions of privilege who don't have to deal with the detriments that it brings.FREESTON: Recently updated budget for the Olympics is over $2 billion, and the estimated cost for security for the games could grow to over $1 billion itself. With this news coming at the onset of a growing economic crisis, many are wondering what the legacy of the 2010 Olympics will be.DISCLAIMER:Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
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